Duchess Cecilly Neville
Article by http://www.bower2tower.co.uk/
Cicely Neville lived through the reigns of five sovereigns, six queens, and saw four Princes of Wales not succeed to the throne. Two of her sons became king only to die untimely. Her husband was killed in battle and his head struck off to adorn the walls of York. In an age of violence, conspiracy and short life expectancy, all but one of her twelve children survived her.
Cicely was the youngest of the 22 children of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmoreland and Countess Joan Beaufort. Her maternal grandparents were John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster (and third son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault) and Katherine Swynford.
She even had a poem written about her:
“A gracious lady!
What is her name, I thee praie tell me Dame Cecile, sir.” “Whose daughter was she?”
Of the Erle of Westmoreland, I trowe the yengist,
And yet grace fortuned her to be the highest.”
Cicely was called “the Rose of Raby” in reference to her beauty (and because she was born at Raby Castle in Durham, Kingdom of England) and “Proud Cis” because of her pride and a temper that went with it. Historically she is also known for her piety. In 1425, at the age of ten , Cicely’s father betrothed her to Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, aged 14 (the leader of the House of York in the Wars of the Roses). Soon after the betrothal the Earl Neville died in battle. The couple probably lived in the household of King Henry VI until 1437 when they were officially married. Their daughter Anne was born in August 1439 in Northamptonshire.
In 1441 Richard became a king’s lieutenant and governor general of France. He and Cicely moved to Rouen where their second child, Henry, was born in February but died soon after. The future king Edward was born in Rouen on April 28, 1442 and immediately baptized. The date of the birth would be later used as a claim of bastardy, because the Duke had been away on the calculated date of conception. Edward could have just born early and baptized in haste due to the understandable fears of death in infancy. Around 1454, when Richard began to resent the influence of Edmund Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, Cicely spoke with Queen consort, Margaret of Anjou on his behalf. When Henry VI suffered a nervous breakdown later in the year, Richard of York established himself as a Protector.
After the outbreak of the War of the Roses, Cicely remained in Ludlow even when Richard fled to Ireland and Continental Europe. They were probably in the custody of Cicely’s sister Anne Neville, wife of Humphrey Stafford, 1st Duke of Buckingham.
However, Cicely staunchly supported the Yorkist cause and when parliament met to debate the fate of the lords of York (November 1459), Cicely travelled to London to plead for her husband. One contemporary commentator stated that she had reputedly convinced the king to promise a pardon if the Duke would appear in parliament in eight days. He failed and his lands were confiscated, but Cecily managed to gain an annual grant of £600 to support her and her children.
After the Yorkist victory, Cicely moved to London with her children and lived with John Paston. She carried the royal arms before Richard in her triumph in London the next September. When Richard was officially accepted as Henry VI’s heir, Cecily became a queen-in-waiting and even received a copy of the English chronicle from the chronicler John Hardyng. In the Battle of Wakefield (December 30, 1460), Lancastrians won a decisive victory. The Duke of York, their second son Edmund, Earl of Rutland and her brother Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury were among the casualties. Cicely sent her youngest sons to the court of Philip III, Duke of Burgundy. This forced Philip to ally with the Yorkists.
Her eldest son Edward successfully continued the fight again the Lancastrians. When Cicely moved to Baynards Castle in London, it became the Yorkist headquarters and when Edward defeated the Lancastrians, she became an effective Queen Mother.
During the beginning of Edward’s reign, Cicely appeared beside him and maintained her influence. In 1461 she revised her coat of arms to include the royal arms of England, hinting that her husband had been a rightful king. In 1469, Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, father-in-law of her son George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence, rebelled against the king. He also begun to spread rumours the Edward IV was a bastard. Neville had earlier made similar accusations against Margaret of Anjou. (William Shakespeare later used this claim in his Richard III).
Cicely Neville said little about the matter in public, despite the fact that she was being accused of adultery. She visited Sandwich, possibly trying to reconcile the parties. When the rebellion failed the first time, she invited Edward and George to London to reconcile them. Peace did not last long and in the forthcoming war she still tried to make peace between her sons. By 1485 Cicely was alone. Her husband and three sons had died in The War of the Roses. Devoting herself to religious duties late in life, Cicely Neville died in 1495 at the incredible age of 80 years! She was buried with a papal indulgence.